Navigation Links
Dung happens and helps scientists

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (Feb. 14, 2008) -- When scientists around the world think of dung, they think of Jim Mead.

Mead, a researcher at Northern Arizona University, is one of the world's foremost authorities on animal dung, and he's got the poop to prove it.

"You have got to laugh at this bizarre resource," says Mead, director of NAU's Laboratory of Quaternary Paleontology. "Although I don't think anyone is keeping track, I suspect we have the largest comparative animal dung collection in the world. If someone needs to identify dung, they send it to me."

The lab, part of the university's Center for Environmental Sciences and Education, has row after row of cabinets with thousands of dung pieces used by scientists to get accurate data on an array of topics, including the environmental changes that took place on the Colorado Plateau during the last 100,000 years.

"Dung is accurate for carbon dating," Mead explains. "It's a data set that typically disappears in the fossil record. All we typically get are bones, but with dung we get biochemistry. We can tell a lot about the climate by analyzing what plants the animal ate."

Through the digested plants, scientists can tell what was going on in the environment at the time, such as the amount of rainfall that was occurring. The data help researchers pinpoint when different changes in the environment took place.

"The plant remains in the dung allow us to determine the mosaic of plants in the local plant community. The community structure changes with changes in climate," he says.

Mead's research includes tracking and comparing ancient dung DNA samples to learn about an animal's gender, food and water sources, air pollen, parasites and community structure during the Ice Age. The data allow him to determine when and how an animal evolved and became extinct.

The collection includes dung from modern animals to prehistoric ground sloths and 40,000-year-old mammoths.

Molecular biologists in Denmark, Australia and Canada are using pieces from NAU's dung collection to compare its DNA to dung they are finding. "To understand ancient dung, one must have a modern comparative collection, and we have one of the best there is," Mead notes. "It is extremely rare to have preserved fossil dung -- yet we have the best and most there are in any collection -- from Siberia to Tierra del Fuego to Argentina -- we have it."

Most of NAU's dung collection is dried and stored wrapped in tissue inside sturdy, archival cardboard boxes.

Mead opens a box of chunky 14,000-year-old mammoth dung and a slight scent of musty grass escapes. He points to the chomped blades of grass fossilized into the brown dried dung and surmises that the mammoth ate about 600 pounds of grass a day.

Mead currently is working with the National Park Service to figure out when bison were introduced to the plateau region. Previous research suggests bison dispersed into the Grand Canyon area more than 11,000 years ago, but with dating from dung, Mead knows that they roamed the plateau at least 23,000 years ago.

He also curates dung and skeletal collections for 22 national parks. Dung from the NAU collection also finds its way into public displays in museums, including the International Wildlife Museum in Tucson, Mesa Southwest Museum in Mesa and at the National Museum in Paris.

"It's no coincidence this dung collection is here," Mead says. "The Colorado Plateau is arid and replete with shelters and caves that are perfect for dung collection. Most other places in the world stay moist and the bacteria break down the dung."

Mead began collecting dung during his research at the University of Arizona in the 1970s. When he came to teach at NAU in 1985, Mead brought the collection with him and has since grown it by gathering dung from zoos and remote regions throughout United States and in places such as Africa, Canada, Mexico, South America, Australia and Siberia.

"Although our research is humorous," Mead says, "the data from dung is nothing to laugh about."


Contact: Diane Rechel
Northern Arizona University

Related biology news :

1. Mice roar message: genetic change happens fast
2. The Uukuniemi virus helps to explain the infection mechanism of bunyaviruses
3. IAEA helps recover stray radioactive sources in Nigeria
4. ASU professor helps solve mystery of glassy water
5. Computer-based tool aids research, helps thwart questionable publication practices
6. Weill Cornell team discovers how brains own tPA helps regulate blood flow to neurons
7. Study helps explain how allergic reactions are triggered
8. New folic acid seal helps women choose enriched grain foods to help prevent birth defects
9. A key enzyme helps keep the synapse on track
10. Primitive early relative of armadillos helps rewrite evolutionary family tree
11. Beetle dung helps forests recover from fire
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Dung happens and helps scientists
(Date:11/18/2015)... ALBANY, New York , November 18, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... Transparency Market Research has published a new market report ... Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2015 - 2021. According to ... bn in 2014 and is anticipated to reach US$29.1 ... 2015 to 2021. North America ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... EASTON, Mass. , Nov. 17, 2015 ... a leader in the development and sale of broadly ... the worldwide life sciences industry, today announced it has ... of its $5 million Private Placement (the "Offering"), increasing ... to $4,025,000.  One or more additional closings are expected ...
(Date:11/12/2015)... Nov. 11, 2015   Growing need for ... tools has been paving the way for use ... of discrete analytes in clinical, agricultural, environmental, food ... predominantly used in medical applications, however, their adoption ... due to continuous emphasis on improving product quality ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... -- Cepheid (NASDAQ: CPHD ) today announced that ... and invited investors to participate via webcast. ... 1, 2015 at 11.00 a.m. Eastern Time --> ... 1, 2015 at 11.00 a.m. Eastern Time --> ... NY      Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 11.00 ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering ... premier annual events for pharmaceutical manufacturing: 2015 Annual Meeting. The conference took place ... the largest number of attendees in more than a decade. , “The ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 , ... This fall, ... at competitive events in five states to develop and pitch their BIG ideas to ... from each state are competing for votes to win the title of SAP's Teen ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... Israel , Nov. 24, 2015  Tikcro Technologies Ltd. (OTCQB: TIKRF) ... on December 29, 2015 at 11:00 a.m. Israel ... Electra Tower, 98 Yigal Allon Street, 36 th Floor, ... of Eric Paneth and Izhak Tamir to the ... Rami Skaliter as external directors; , approval of an amendment to ...
Breaking Biology Technology: